Skip to main content

Full text of "Collection of Mohawk legends"

See other formats


Collection of Mohawk Legends 



Queen's University 


Dorothy M. SI iter, 1996 

Kingston, Ontario, Canada 


Queen's University at Kingston 


We, Akwesasne Mohawk Counselor Organization, dedicate this pamplet, "Col- 
lection of Mchawk Legends", to our friend and faithful brother, Ha-e-sas or Arthur 
W. Abbey of Cowlesville, New York. 

Mr. A. W. Abbey, long known as a friend of the Indian is a keen student of 
the culture and history of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy. The latchstring of! 
the door to his house is always on the outside waiting for any Indian to pull and 
enter. There they are always welcome and there they have found a true friend and 
brother, Mr. Arthur W. Abbey. Because of his sincere friendship Mr. Abbey was 
taken into the Seneca Hawk Clan on the Tonawanda Reservation, Sept. 3, 1939. He 
was given the name of Hae-e-sas, Hae-e-sas sends the following message to the 
members of the Akwesasne Mohawk Counselor Organization :- 


I sincerely believe in the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of all mankind 
and the practice of the Golden Rule toward all men regardless of race, color or 
creed. I sincerely believe that all men were created equal and should be judged as 
such. In all fairness to my Indian brothers and sisters, I believe that a true history 
of their relationship toward one another and to the white man has never been 
taught in our schools. I believe that the history of the life and doings of the Amer- 
ican Indian has been taught purely from the view point of a few white authors who 
refused to see or consider the rights in any way of those people, whose customs 
differed from their own ideas. 

I have found many noble men and women to-day among our Indian neigh- 
bors and by admssions of our own writers, many very fine and loyal people have 
lived in the past, even long before white man entered the unspoiled virgin domains 
of the Red Man. White Man must admit that the virtues of the Red Man are many 
and he also must admit with a degree of shame that the shortcomings of a few Red 
Men were due in many cases by the unfair dealings and practices of the white man's 
law. I have sincerely endeavored to bring to those, I come in contact with, the true 
facts as I find them. 

May peace, harmony, good will and brotherly love rest upon you all. 



Nothing contained herein may be used in whole or in part 
without written permission from the author. 
Printed in Malone, N. Y., by Lanctot Printing Shop 


How Man Was Created 


After Sat-kon-se-ri-io, the good Spirit, had made the animals, birds, and other 
creatures and had placed them to live and multiply upon the earth, he rested. As 
he gazed around at his various creations it seemed to him that there was something 
lacking. For a long time the Good Spirit pondered over this thought. Finally he 
decided to make a creature that would resemble himseflf. 

Going to the bank of a river he took a piece of clay and oat of it he fashioned 
a little clay man. After he had modeled it, he built a fire and setting the little clay man 
in the fire waited for it to bake. The day was beautiful. The songs of the birds 
filled the air. The river sang a song and, as the Good Spirit listened to this song, 
he became very sleepy. He soon fell asleep beside the fire. When he finally awoke, 
he rushed to the fire and removed the clay man. He had slept too long. His little 
man was burnt black. According to the Mohawks this little man was the first 
Negro. His skin was black. He had been over baktd. 

The Good Spirit was not satisfied. Taking a fresh piece of day, he fashioned 
another man and placing him in the fire waited for him to bake, determined this 
time to stay awake and watch his little man to see that he would not be over baked. 
But the river sang its usual sleepy song. The Good Spirit, in spite of all he could 
do, fell asleep. But this time he slept only a little while. Awakening at last, hcj ran 
to the fire and removed his little man. Behold, it was half baked. This, say the 
Mohawks, was the first white man. He was half baked! 

The Good Spirit was still unsatisfied. Searching along the rives.- bank he hunt- 
ed until he found a bed of perfect red clay. This time he took great carei and model- 
ed a very fine clay man. Taking the clay man to the fire, he allowed it to bake. 
Determined to stay awake, the Good Spirit stood beside the fire. After awhile 
Sat-kon-se-ri-io removed the clay man. Behold, it was just right - - a man colored 
as the red color of the sunset sky. It was the first Mohawk Indian. 

The Discovery of Fire, A Tradition 


In olden times when a Mohawk boy had reached the age of 14 winters (years), 
it was customary for him to make a journey, accompanied by his father, to some 
sacred place back up in the mountains. There, after receiving instructions from his 
father, the youth would remain alone for at least four days. During these four or 
more days the Mohawk boy would perform a ceremony known as the Dream Fast. 
This Dream Fast was very important to the Indian boy of long ago. To be success- 
ful in the Dream Fast meant that the Indian was no longer a youth but a man. 
During the fast the Clan Spirit of the young Mohawk would appear to him in a dream 
and reveal to him the bird, animal or plant that was to be the Mohawk's guardian 
throughout his life. After the fast he must secure something from the creature of 
his dream and must wear it in his medicine bag as a sort of a charm. 

The Mohawk Iroquois had three clans which were, the Bear Clan, Turtle Clan 
and Wolf Clan. Should the dreamer belong to the Turtle Clan, the Spirit of the 
turtle would appear to him in a dream and show him his future guardian. If tho 
clan spirit did not appear to him during the fast, his father who visited him daily 
would release him and he departed home, a failure. He could not have two chances. 
The dreamer could leave his fasting place after sunset for brief periods. He could 
drink water to quench his thirst. He was not allowed to eat any food. 

Otjiera belonged to the Bear Clan and was the son of a famous leader. He had 
many honors to his credit. No youth of the Mohawks was fleeter on foot than he. 
He led in the games and was one of the best lacrosse players of his nation. He 
could shoot his arrow farther and straighter than any of his friends. He knew the 
forests and streams and would always return from the hunt loaded down with deer 
meat, which he always divided with the needy of his people. He could imitate the 
calls of the birds. They would come when he called and would sit on his shoulders. 
He was the pride of his people. 

The time for the Dream Fast of Otjiera had come. It was in the Moon of 
Strawberries. Otjiera was eager to try the test of strength and endurance. High up- 
on the mountain, on a huge ledge of rock, hei built his lodge of young saplings. He 
covered it with the branches of the balsam to shelter it from the rains. He removed 
all of his clothing save his breech clout and moccasins. Appealing to his clan spirit 
he entered the crude shelter. 

Four suns had passed and yet the young warrior had not been visited by the 
clan spirit. The fifth sun had dawned when his father appeared. He shook the lodge 
poles and called for Otjiera to come forth. 

Otjiera in a low and weak voice begged his father to give him one more day, 
His father left, telling Otjera that on the morrow he must return to his village. 

That night Otjiera looked down from his lodge on the mountains. In the distance 
he heard low rumblings of thunder. As he listened thei thunder became louder and 
louder. Bright flashes of lightning lit up the heavens. 

"Great Thunder Man, Ra-ti-we-ras", prayed the youth, "Send my Clan Spirit 
to help me." He had no sooner spoken than a blinding flash of lightning lit the 
sky and a rumble of thunder shook the mountain top. Otjiera looked and beheld 
his clan spirit. A huge bear stood beside him in his lodge. Suddenly the bear spoke, 
"This night, Otjiera, you shall have a magic that will not only aid you, but will also 
aid all of the Ongwe-Oweh, the Real People (Indian)." 

There was a blinding flash of lightning and Otjiera awoke from his vision. He 
rubbed his eyes and looked for the clan spirit. The bear was gone. The youth won- 
dered what his guardian helper would be. He looked out from his lodge. The storm 
had not yet left the mountain. Suddenly he heard a strange sound outside near the 
lodge! It was a dreadful screeching sound such as he had never heard before. He 

wondered what kind of animal or bird made such a dreadful noise. The sound had 
ceased. Then, almost over his head, he saw the cause of the sound. The wind was caus- 
ing two balsam trees to rub their branches against each other. As the wood rubbed, 
the friction caused the strange, screeching sound. As Atjiera watched he saw a 
strange thing happen. The strong wind, rushing up the mountain, caused the trees 
to bend and sway more rapidly. Where the two trees rubbed against each other, a 
thin string of smoke appeared. As the boy watched, the wood burst into flame. 

Otjiera was, at first, frightened. He started to run. None of his people had ever 
seen fire so near and it was feared. The boy remembered his clan spirit. "This must 
be what the great bear meant", thought the boy. 

That day Otjera took two pieces of dry balsam wood. He rubbed the wood to- 
gether as he had seen the storm do the night before. He soon tired and was about 
to throw the wood away when he noticed a thin thread of smoke coming from the 
wood. He rubbed harder and soon a tiny spark appeared. By using some dry cedar 
bark and grass he soon had a fire. 

When his father and two chiefs came that noon ; they found a happy Otjiera. 
He had a very powerful helper, a strong medicine which afterwards was to help all 
of his people. That was how fire came to the Indian people of long ago. 

****** <?s^r ****** 

The Wampum Bird 


Long ago a war party of Mohawks captured a young man of the Wampanoag 
Nation. For some years the Mohawks had been at war with these people. The cap- 
tive boy was allowed to live, and was given permission to move freely about the 
Mohawk village. He was closely watched so that he might not escape back to the 
Wampanoag country. 

One day a young Mohawk hunter came running into the village. He was filled 
with excitement for he had seen a strange bird in the forest. This bird was cover- 
ed with wampum beads. Immediately a hunting party was organized and the hunters 
set out to try and capture this wonderful bird. The hunters, after walking a short 
distances, came upon the bird. The bird was as the hunter had described it. It was 
covered with white and purple feathers. The head chief, as soon as he saw the bird, 
offered his beautiful daughter to anyone who could get the bird, dead or alive. All 
of the hunters tried to hit the bird with their arrows. They filled the air with their 
arrows. Occasionally the bird was hit by an arrow and off would fly a shower of 
wampum. New wampum appeared on the bird to take the place of the fallen wam- 
pum. Finally, after trying to hit the bird for some time, the best hunters began to 
get discouraged and, one by one, they gave up trying to get the bird. 

The young Wampanoag captive, from the unfriendly tribe, asked the chief if he 
could try his luck. The Mohawk warriors did not want this to happen and even 
threatened the boy's life. The chief interfered and told the boy that he could try. 
"If warriors have tried and failed, surely a mere boy cannot bring down the bird", 
said the chief. The warriors finally agreed and the boy lifted his bow and fitted an 
arrow. The swift arrow pierced the heart of the bird and it fell to the earth. Its. 
wampum plumage enriched the people. The boy married the Chief's daughter and 
with the marriage came peace between the two nations. The boy said, "Wampum 
shall bring and bind peace and it shall take the place of blood." 

The Invention of the Bow and Arrow, 
a Tradition 


Long ago the Indian people did not have the bow and arrow for a weapon. At 
that time, a spear was the common weapon used in the hunt. 

One day a young Indian hunter, whose name was Oh-gwe-luhn-doe, left his vil- 
lage in search of a bear. His only weapon was a long spear, tipped with flint. 
Oh-gwe-luhn-doe walkeid a long way. He saw no signs of bear. After a while, the 
thought came to him that perhaps he would find a bear in a thickly forested glen 
that was not far away. In this particular place there were wild grape vines. It 
was at the time of the Moon of Falling Leaves (October). The grapes would be 
ripe and the bear would, no doubt, be eating them. 

Ohgweluhndoe was not wrong in his guess. As he entered the thickest part 
of the glen, he caught sight of a huge black figure. It was Oh-gwa-li, the bear, and 
he was busy eating wild grapes. From time to time he would grunt little squeals of 
pleasure as he gulped the wild grapes down. The young hunter crept very close. He 
was almost within reach of the bear. Quietly he raised the spear for the death 
stroke and would have materialized but for one thing. As Ohgweluhndoe was about 
to throw the spear, his foot slipped on a rock and he fell sprawling to the ground, 
almost under the bear's claws. With a startled grunt the hunter looked up. He still 
held the spear, but now he was in no position to throw it. Oh-gwa-li, the bear, ord- 
inarily would have run away from a human hunter; but the sudden appearance of 
the young Indian startled him, and instead of running away as most black bears do, 
he turned and started for the hunter. Ohgweluhndoe did not take long in getting 
to his feet. With one jump he was on his feet, and in a moment was heading through 
the forest. The bear, seeing that the hunter was running from him, gained courage 
and quickly took after Ohgweluhndoe. For a little while the two, the hunter and 
the bear, kept the same speed, but in a short time the bear gained rapidly on the 

Ohgweluhndoe knew that in a very little while the bear would have him and 
that probably he would be torn to pieces. He thought of his wife and son waiting 
home for his return. This thought made him determined to kill the bear or die in 
the attempt. Turning quickly, he made ready to throw his spear, but the end of the 
spear had caught on a twisted grape vine which was clinging to the top of a small 
ash sapling. The hunter tried to pull the spear free from the vine, but he only suc- 
ceeded in bending the sapling. The bear was almost upon the Indian. Ohgweluhndoe 
made one more effort to pull the spear loose, As he tugged at the spear he pulled; 
the sapling to the ground. He did not wait long. With a startled yell, he let the 
spear go and turned to run. He had not run many steps when he noticed that the 
bear was not following him. He looked back. The bear was on the ground with the 
spear stuck through his neck. The blood was rapidly reddening the leaves as Ohgwali 
gave a few final kicks before death came. The surprised hunter went back to see 
what had happened. The spear which had caught on the vine had caused the sapling 
to bend, thus forming a bow. The vine had been the bow string, the sapling the bow. 
When the hunter had pulled the spear he had caused the sapling to bend. When he 
dropped the spear the sapling had sprung upright again. The force of this spring 
had whipped the vine straight, at the same time, throwing the spear ahead into 
Ohgwali's neck. 

The hunter again took the spear and put the end of it on the vine. Pulling the. 
vine back, he bent the sapling. When the sapling had bsnt almost to the ground, 
he released the spear. It shot through the air. Thus, the bow -was invented. 

In time the Indians made smaller bows out of smaller saplings. Instead of a 
grapevine bow string they used one of rawhide. Instead of a heavy spear, they used 
an arrow, tipped with flint and winged with feathers. The bow became a priceless 
"weapon for the Indian people of long ago. 


The Rabbit Dance 


In a wild section of the Adirondack Mountains there camped a hunting party 
of Mohawk Indians. During the Leaf - Falling Moon (October) many of the Mo- 
hawks left their main villages along the Mohawk River and traveled north to the 
mountains where the hunting was good. There, in the heavily forested mountain 
valleys, the hunters would store up deer meat and deer skins for winter use 1 . When 
a goodly supply had been gathered the people followed the hunting trails south to 
the main Mohawk settlements. Some of the hunters usually remained in the moun- 
tains during the winter months because of the good trapping of fur-bearing animals 
in that region. Beaver skins were valuable for trade ^ven before the white man came 
with his guns and fire-water to exchange for them. 

In this particular hunting camp lived two little Indian boys. One was called 
Hot-no-wah, the Turtle, and the other was nicknamed Oweya, the Wing. 

Early one morning while the hunters were making preparations for a deer drive, 
the Turtle and Wing set out on a little exploring trip of their own. In their hands 
they carried their little bows. A quiver of arrows was strapped across each of their 
backs. The little boys walked on and on through the forest. They walked silently 
and were very careful not to make any noise for their eyes were on the lookout for 
game. Perhaps they could surprise a chipmunk or a squirrel. After walking quite a 
distance from camp, they came to a little clearing in the pines. As they approached 
this clearing, they noticed little trails or paths running into it. These, they knew, 
were rabbit runways so they tightened their grip on their bows and were more on 
the alert for game. The boys walked to the center of the clearing and looked around 
for rabbits. 

Suddenly, there was a loud thumping sound. It seemed to come from the 
ground. Looking ahead the boys, to their amazement, saw a huge brown rabbit. 
The huge creature was as large as the boys. It stood for a few mornpnts looking 
at the Httle Mohawks. Turtle and Wing forgot all about hunting rabbits. Never be- 
fore had they seen such a huge rabbit. At first they were frightened, but. as the 1 
rabbit made no move to harm them, their fears left them. 

After looking the boys over, the rabbit again thumped the ground with his 
hind legs. Immediately a long line of rabbits appeared, running rapidly down one 
of the runways. Quickly they approached the clearing where to the surprise of the 
two boys, they performed all sorts of queer antics. There seemed to be hundreds 
of rabbits. There was an endless line of rabbits running, hopping, skipping, and 
chasing each other down the narrow rabbit path and into the clearing. They seem- 
ed to be everywhere and all were very frolicsome as they hopped and skipped about. 
Somtimes-they seemed to be playing the game, "Follow the Leader". 

They ran here and there, several in a line, all following one rabbit. Occasionally 
they ran in circles, hopping and kicking as they went. Meanwhile, the large chwA 
rabbit remained near the boys. He watched his lively tribe but in no way did lit 
take part in the rabbit games except to stand guard. 

As the boys watched the rabbits skip and hop around them, they £orgot their 
fear of the big chief rabbit. Boylike they wanted to play tag with the rabbits. Turtle 
made a grab for one of the rabbits and when he missed him, set out in pursuit. 
WirTg forgot the big chief rabbit and joined the chase. 

Without warning a loud thump! Thump! Thump! was heard. The big chief 
rabbit was warning his tribe. Immediately every rabbit stopped still in his tracks! 
They seemed to be frozen to the ground, so motionless did they become. The now 
startled boys ceased their running and gazed in fright at the big rabbit. The chief 
rabbit gave two more thumps. Immediately the other rabbits jumped into action! 

Following each other single file, they left the clearing and disappeared up the run- 
way from where they had come. 

The big chief rabbit waited until the last rabbit had left the clearing. Then, 
giving a final thump, he too hopped up the rabbit trail and was soon lost to view. 

The two boys were very surprised at what they had seen. Quickly they return- 
ed to the hunting camp where they told their father what they had seen. Their 
father laughed and said that they were good story tellers. But their wise old grand- 
father said that the boys were fortunate to have seen what had happened. 

"You saw the Rabbit Dance'', said he. "The rabbits, like the Indians, have their 
own trails and their own council ground. They hold councils and move from place 
to place. They have secret signals which are given by thumps on the ground with 
their hind legs. Very few people have seen the Rabbit Dance, and those who are so 
fortunate as to have seen it, usually become very good hunters. The big rabbit that 
you saw was the big chief rabbit and he was watching over his people", and the old 
man wisely shook his head as he went into the bark house. 

THESE ILLUSTRATED PAMPHLETS — dealing on the history, 
culture and legends of the Ho-de-no-sau-ne or Six Nations Iro- 
quois Confederacy, have been collected and written by Aren Akweks 
(Ray Fadden). 

The future of our young Indian children depends upon the kind 
of history taught today. Our forefathers fought for their way of life. 
Our young warriors have died on battlefields all over the world in the 
interests of the American Way of Life. The American Way of Life 
originated in this country and you may trace its birth in the history and 
culture of our ancestors, the North American Indians. The now com- 
plete Iroquois Life History Series offers potent help in training young 
people in early American History. The collection of Indian History. 
Pamphlets paints a strong and educational picture of Indian life, a pic- 
ture that will create pride, interest, respect and reverence for the prin- 
ciples of freedom and justice for which the old Indian stood. 

(For information concerning the Six Nation Pamphlets, write to: 
Akwesasne Counselor Organization, Hogansburg, N. Y.) 

Are you interested or concerned in the welfare of the Indian of to- 
day? Do you want to know what is being done for and what is being 
done against the Indians of the United States and Alaska? Do you have 
a sincere desire to know what your government is doing for or against 
the Indian People? Do you know that there is in this country an All- 
Indian organization made up of Indian leaders from Indian tribes of Am r 
erica who can supply you with this information? The leaders of this 
organizattion are unselfish men and women who are devoting their lives 
to help better the living conditions of the Indians of this country. They 
are the "watch dogs" of our people and are trying to keep the public 
(People of all colors) informed of every movement that concerns Am- 
erican Indians. They issue several bulletins every year that contain the 
above mentioned data. They warn our people of legislation that may be 
of help or of harm to them. They act as a bulwark against those who 
would harm our peoplev These bulletins, telling the public of happenings 
in the government that concern Indians, are mailed without charge to 
members contributing three dollars or more to the work of the NCA.I, 
and to any non-member contributing five dollars or more. This worth- 
while organization, the National Congress of American Indians, (Room 
618 Dupont Circle Bldg., Washington 6, D. C.) has done wonderful work 
for our Indian People. HELP TO SERVE A WORTHY CAUSE! 

Do you know that there is an Indian magazine titled "Smoke Sig- 
nals" that you can subscribe to? This publication is interesting and edu- 
cational and is dedicated to the American Indian. It is especially valu- 
able in schools and youth camps. It is published Bi-monthly by the In- 
dian Association of America. If you are interested in the Indian his- 
tory of the past and in Indian doings of the present— this is where you 
can secure it. A subscription to "Smoke Signals" is $1.50 a year. (In- 
dian Association of America, Inc., P. O. Box 702, Newark 1, New Jersey. 

Are you interested in the history of the Indians of Canada and would 
you like to know what is happening to our people across the line right 
now? This information can be secured from another unselfish group of 
Indians who have devoted their lives to the cause of their people. The 
monthly paper or magazine titled, "The Native Voice" is the voice of the 
Native Canadians and it is published once a month by: The Native Voice 
Publishing Company, Ltd., 429 Standard Bldg., 510 West Hastings St., 
Vancouver, B. C. The subscription rate for one year ig $1.00. This In- 
dian magazine-is educational, interesting and will give you, not only hap- 
penings of the past but, will keep you informed on every movement today 
that is for or against the welfare of the Indians of Canada — a very worth- 
while paper!